Veteran Fields held the first annual Harvest Banquet on Saturday, September 23 rd at Adams State University’s Vista Restaurant in Rex Stadium. Veteran Fields is a community partnership consisting of the Veterans Coalition of the San Luis Valley, the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition and the Rio Grande Farm Park.
The guest speaker for this event was John Kretsinger of KW Farms, who is a Marine Corps and Blue Angel Veteran. One of John’s primary concerns is sustainable farming and ranching, and he discussed many important subjects concerning food production in the Valley. One of the most astonishing points that John raised was the fact that the Valley actually exports and imports a staggering 90% of our produce. Therefore, the majority of the food we grow is currently being shipped out of the Valley, and the majority of the food we eat is shipped into the Valley. The attendees overwhelmingly agreed that this is something that needs to change.
The event drew a good crowd, with many familiar faces as well as many people new to the idea of veteran farming. Veteran Fields participants came to educate and inspire our community regarding the new initiative, and to move toward the ultimate goal of helping our former service members as they move into agriculture. Through the first phase of funding, Veteran Fields is supporting a few local veterans with their agriculture startups. Jen Ballentine’s Rabbit Hole Ranch Poultry Co, while still very early in its development, is finding a great need for pastured local chicken. Although the Rabbit Hole Ranch is currently only producing a small amount of poultry, it demonstrates the promise of growing into a steady, sustainable business. More details can be found at www.rabbitholeranch.com.
In the spring of 2018, veteran Jayne Salisbury, with the Women Veterans of the SLV, will be spearheading the development of an Agri-therapy herb and flower Victory Garden at Colorado State Veterans Community Living Center at Homelake.
The Rio Grande Farm Park and SLV Local Foods are proving to be tremendous allies in our efforts to collaborate with local communities. The Farm Park offers many options for veterans who would like to farm, but do not own land. With some of the best soil in the Valley, the Farm Park offers a tremendous opportunity for those who wish to learn the basics of farming in our unusual climate. Mentors, fellow farmers and supportive people on site, as well as shared tools, seeds and water will help ensure the success of any veteran who wishes to give this a try.
Veteran Fields has initiated partnerships with community gardens in Alamosa and Antonito, although spaces are limited. Veterans in these locations can grow their own crops and sell or distribute them through one or more of the Valley’s markets, such as the many Farmers’ Markets or through the Valley Roots Food Hub in Mosca.
Veteran Fields is also working towards networking farmers with veterans, both past and present. This powerful union is made possible through a new information system that is being compiled by the Veterans Coalition of the SLV. Veteran Fields also provides benefits for both veterans and SLV farmers to register with Veteran Fields. No login or password is required, simply register at www.vcslv.info/joinveteranfields. Farmers who sign up will receive information on veterans looking for agriculture careers, veterans looking for mentorship opportunities and tax benefits for hiring veterans. Anyone signing up will see updates on the mission to continue feeding America, via veterans.
Veterans can now receive information on places where they can grow crops, even if they do not own land themselves. They will also receive notifications regarding small grants from Veteran Fields and other veteran-to-farmer initiatives. Farmers and agricultural companies seek to hire veterans, and there are free or reduced-price educational opportunities available for various topics such as hydroponics and soil health. All of these opportunities exist so that veterans can be supported while engaging in currently operating farms, or while starting their own farms or homesteads.
Veteran Fields is also working on a veteran’s marketing label, dubbed “Homegrown by Heroes”, which is a label initiated by the Farmer Veteran Coalition in California. This system has been successful in 17 other states and has substantially increased sales nationwide for veteran farmers across America. We would like to see Colorado become the next state to register and use this successful program and label. Those interested can find more information by visiting www.vcslv.info and clicking “Take Action” or signing up via our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/veteranfields and clicking “Sign Up.” Those without internet information can leave a Voicemail at 1-844-409-1910. A representative will call you back in order to collect your information for signing up with Veteran Fields.